The 2012 French production of Les adieux de la reine or Farewell, My Queen, based upon the novel by Chantal Thomas, is perhaps one of the most damaging of all films to the character of the real Marie-Antoinette. There are stunningly beautiful and atmospheric passages in the novel Farewell, My Queen which capture so perfectly the last tragic summer at Versailles. Some of that atmosphere made it into the film, which realistically shows the dirt and grime of the palace as well as its splendor, glimmering with an especial magnificence in the candlelight. Other than that, the film bears little resemblance to the book. With Diane Kruger's stunning portrayal Marie-Antoinette, more weight is given to the calumnious reports of the Queen as the cold-blooded, calculating, licentious and manipulative consort of a befuddled king. It is regrettable, because a radiant performance like Miss Kruger's could have given the world genuine insight into the real Marie-Antoinette if it had been entirely based upon history.
The movie centers upon a drab fictional character named Sidonie Laborde, who portrays a sort of junior Reader to the Queen during the days following the fall of the Bastille in July 1789. In the novel Les Adieux, Sidonie is a mature woman who goes to daily Mass; in the film she is a young girl, co-dependently fixated upon Marie-Antoinette and the Queen's relationship with Madame de Polignac. It is as if the story were built around Fragonard's painting "La Liseuse" or "A Young Girl Reading" (below) except in the movie the colors are muted and dismal. Sidonie has no life outside of being the Queen's Reader; perhaps this is an attempt of the filmmakers to make a comment upon the nature of monarchy, trying to infer that it robbed people of their personality. However, the film is such a mishmash of unrelated scenes that it is difficult to discern what the message might be, if there is one. One minute Sidonie is passionately kissing the gondolier in the pantry and the next she is gazing with curiosity upon the naked body of a drugged Madame de Polignac. There is little coherency from scene to scene. Similarly, Marie-Antoinette is shown obsessing over Gabrielle de Polignac and later is shown as a devoted wife, frantic about her husband.
Whereas the book mentions the recent death of the Dauphin Louis-Joseph, the movie leaves out the little boy completely. Neither book nor film take into enough account the intense grief which Marie-Antoinette was enduring at the time. She was not morbidly preoccupied with Gabrielle de Polignac, as the film depicts; she was mourning her son. Furthermore, the film hints at a lesbian relationship between the Queen and Madame de Polignac but there is no evidence that Marie-Antoinette had a carnal relationship with anyone but her husband. It is true the queen had a great capacity for friendship, and that she was not always prudent in her choice of companions. In regard to Madame de Polignac, the friendship had early on spilled over into an innocent girlish infatuation of a young inexperienced wife for an older one who was already the mother of a growing family. Louis himself encouraged and cultivated the friendship between his wife and Gabrielle, whose discretion he trusted immensely. No serious biographer of the queen gives the least credence to the scandalous stories; even Lady Antonia Fraser insists in her recent biography that there is not the slightest indication that Marie-Antoinette ever participated in homosexual acts. However, people with promiscuous backgrounds tend to judge others according to their own behavior. The French court, being the French court, was the kind of setting that shadowed the most innocent relationships with tawdry connotations. Marie-Antoinette, with her beauty, naiveté and sentimentality, was the perfect target for every sort of calumny.
I do not care for the portrayal of the Duchesse de Polignac in the film. Although Gabrielle is shown as a swarthy and swaggering strumpet, in reality she had delicate white skin, blue eyes and was known for her gracefulness and charm of manner. In other words, she was a Lady. By July 1789, she was also a grandmother, as well as already being the mother of four children, including a seven and a nine year old. As Governess of the Children of France, she had to be in constant attendance upon the Dauphin. Whatever went on her in her private life was discreet. She would not have ripped off an apron in disdain as she is shown doing in the film; the Queen and her ladies wore aprons at Trianon and Gabrielle is said to have influenced the Queen towards simple, rustic attire.
The film is at its best when it depicts events that really happened, such as the Queen reading her tearful petition to the National Assembly for permission to join the King if he were to be imprisoned, and for the moving farewell of Louis and Marie-Antoinette with their two surviving children at her side. Those scenes are so well done that it is heartbreaking that the rest of the film is such a disjointed and mediocre aberration. The filmmakers obviously hate the very memory of the French monarchy, as well as the long dead Marie-Antoinette. Farewell, My Queen is yet another creative twist of the knife into her reputation. For it is the reputation of Marie-Antoinette which must be destroyed by those who wish to continually justify the violent overturning of society known as the Revolution.
|Lea Seydoux as the Young Reader|
|Fragonard's La Liseuse (Young Girl Reading)|